Thursday, June 3, 2010

BEA Observations: How the Experience Has Changed for Me Over the Years

I think it was about seven years ago when I attended my very first BookExpo America. I'd heard the sales and marketing folks at my company talk about the show for a decade, but our editorial staff had never really gotten to attend. But that particular year we were holding a writers' conference in conjunction with BEA, which being held in Los Angeles, so the editors got a little travel budget love so we could work our event and then stick around.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I'd never been to an industry trade show. One of our publicity guys simply told me: "There's a lot of energy. You'll come away really feeling like a part of something."

And, indeed, as I first walked into the LA convention center with my co-workers, I could feel it. There were banners and costumes and lines and commotion and cupcakes and a few shot glasses being thrown back. There was a buzz in the air. And there were books. Thousands of them. Everywhere. And they were giving them away. For free. And authors--really cool famous ones and some I'd never heard of--were signing books and posing for pictures with fans. You never knew what you would find around the next corner. It was heaven. I spent a couple hundred dollar shipping books back to my office.

When I left my old job last month, I packed up many of the books I'd collected from my first few BEAs. There were a certainly a bunch I'd brought home and read and a good number I'd given away. But a lot of them just gathered dust in my office. It took me a few years to get over the grab-it-because-it's-free-and-I-like-the-cover mentality.

I brought home exactly three books from the 2010 BEA (down four from the year before). It's not that there weren't more I would like to read (and may end up with one way or another later). But, for one, I have eight boxes of books from my office that I have no where to store (three still in the trunk of my car). And this year and last there simply weren't as many books to be had. I didn't see a single book in one big publisher's booth when I walked trough, only electronic signs flashing covers. In another booth, I heard someone ask a marketing staffer if they had a catalog. "Our catalog is online only," she said. Publishers, it seems, are simply not spending money on BEA like they used to.

So when I first attended the show, it was all about grabbing books. This year as I walked around the Javits Center, it was all about observing and talking to people. Snapping pictures and tweeting. Saying hello to editors and agents and marketers and asking them what they're excited about. Attending the Children's Book & Author Breakfast with its bad bagels and in-the-news host. Hearing editors gush over upcoming titles they're crazy for at the Young Adult Editors Buzz.

The 2010 BEA was fun and exciting for me, but not quite the way it used to be. The buzz in the air is a little quieter. But it still makes me feel like a part of something.

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